Violoncello da spalla
The violoncello da spalla is something incredibly interesting: it is a cello smaller than normal held against the shoulder by a belt that you can play like a violin. I was enchanted to discover that an instrument with the size of a tenor viola could be tuned like a cello, using the violin technique. Until 1730 there aren’t clear references about that the cello was held only between the knees. At that time the term cello indicated an instrument rather than a way of playing.
From many paintings, written sources and the surviving instruments we can deduce that the cello at least until the first half of the ‘700, was made in various sizes ranging from a tenor viola to a modern cello. It could also be played between the knees and on the shoulder, but unfortunately it was not specified in the sheet and could have 4 or 5 strings.
Various composers are connected to music for violoncello da spalla, although preferred to use the term violoncello piccolo: Vitali, Gabrielli, Jacchini, Giovanni and Antonio Bononcini, Caldara.
An important place among the composers belongs to Bach with his masterpieces including several cantatas and the six cello suites BWV 1007-1012.
You must consider that the baroque musicians approached the music with more freedom and also choosing the instrument according to what they had to play. We can assume that they used the larger type of violoncello to play in the orchestra, while they used the smaller one, violoncello da spalla, for small orchestras and in the solo pieces. As well as the size of the violoncello gradually reduced to perfect the technique also the violoncello da spalla was gradually reduced to the size of a tenor viola to make it easier to play.
For the construction of my instrument, I used the size of a tenor viola because I found studying vary articols, it is ideal for the cello shoulder. I photographed every stage of its construction and it is always incredibly exciting seeing again the photos after much time . It was a great joy to hear the sound of my violoncello da spalla for the first time. A sweet and rich sound that for months I waited to hear, finally spreading in my workshop!
I think that violoncello da spalla is a very interesting instrument to rediscover for contemporary violinists and violists that want to enjoy a different and very special way to play.